To Rise in Darkness

Revolution, Repression, and Memory in El Salvador, 1920–1932

To Rise in Darkness

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 36 illustrations, 5 maps Published: July 2008

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Central America

To Rise in Darkness offers a new perspective on a defining moment in modern Central American history. In January 1932 thousands of indigenous and ladino (non-Indian) rural laborers, provoked by electoral fraud and the repression of strikes, rose up and took control of several municipalities in central and western El Salvador. Within days the military and civilian militias retook the towns and executed thousands of people, most of whom were indigenous. This event, known as la Matanza (the massacre), has received relatively little scholarly attention. In To Rise in Darkness, Jeffrey L. Gould and Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago investigate memories of the massacre and its long-term cultural and political consequences.

Gould conducted more than two hundred interviews with survivors of la Matanza and their descendants. He and Lauria-Santiago combine individual accounts with documentary sources from archives in El Salvador, Guatemala, Washington, London, and Moscow. They describe the political, economic, and cultural landscape of El Salvador during the 1920s and early 1930s, and offer a detailed narrative of the uprising and massacre. The authors challenge the prevailing idea that the Communist organizers of the uprising and the rural Indians who participated in it were two distinct groups. Gould and Lauria-Santiago demonstrate that many Communist militants were themselves rural Indians, some of whom had been union activists on the coffee plantations for several years prior to the rebellion. Moreover, by meticulously documenting local variations in class relations, ethnic identity, and political commitment, the authors show that those groups considered “Indian” in western El Salvador were far from homogeneous. The united revolutionary movement of January 1932 emerged out of significant cultural difference and conflict.


To Rise in Darkness . . . exemplifies methodological innovation in social research. It is important reading for scholars interested in the period in Central America and, more generally, in mestizaje and indigeneity. It also offers much for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in history, anthropology and cultural studies of Latin America, including methodologically. . . . For scholars and activists concerned with indigenous politics in El Salvador today, the book, which was released in Central America in Spanish shortly after its publication in English, offers new insights into a history that is central to contemporary activism.” — Brandt G. Peterson, Social History

To Rise in Darkness is a welcome addition to the literature on the 1920s and 1930s in El Salvador. The text skillfully summarizes and synthesizes the existing body of literature regarding la matanza, the massacre of ten thousand Salvadorans (predominantly indigenous peasants) in 1932, but it also adds fresh insights based on new evidence. . . . [B]ecause the authors very explicitly place the events of the 1920s and 1930s within the Central American context and contextualize the analysis within a solid theoretical framework, the text is valuable for graduate students working on political mobilization, ethnicity, and state violence, and it could also be useful for advanced undergraduates.” — Aldo V. García Guevara, History: Reviews of New Books

“In sum, To Rise in Darkness provides a multifaceted study that highlights the grassroots struggles of ladino and indigenous rural laboring classes in the late 1920s and 1930s as they articulated with leftist parties, an increasingly repressive state, and a dominant racist ideology among the country’s agricultural capitalist class. This extraordinary account of mass rebellion will be a major force in Latin American History and studies of revolution as well as a rich resource for students and scholars for years to come.” — Paul Almeida, Journal of World History

“Recommended.” — J.B. Kirkwood, Choice

“The depth of research and strength of argumentation of this work by Gould and Lauria is at the level with the importance of the subject.” — Héctor Lindo-Fuentes, The Americas

To Rise in Darkness contributes to a clearer understanding of a complex period of political, social, and cultural history, including how its contemporary interpretation reveals the dynamics of individual and social memory. . . . It will appeal to an interdisciplinary audience for its methodological and theoretical attention to discourse and ideology, symbolism and power, political agency and subjectivity, memory and identity.” — Robin DeLugan, EIAL

“[A] remarkable and thoroughly impressive volume. . . It rests upon scrupulous investigation of primary documentary evidence at local, regional, national and international levels. Indeed, Aldo Lauria-Santiago’s contribution goes far beyond primary responsibility for the writing for the sections of the volume on political economy; he has clearly played an important role in assisting the revival of the Salvadorean National Archive.” — James Dunkerley, Journal of Latin American Studies

“[T]he book, along with its accompanying film, are sure to spark animated and productive debates about the events and processes it analyzes with such care and eloquence. . . . [T]his finely wrought study makes a major contribution to understanding one of the most horrific and consequential episodes in the modern history of Latin America.” — Michael J. Schroeder, A Contracorriente

“Gould and Lauria-Santiago . . . have laid a groundwork (and set a high bar) for a new generation of scholars, from the North and South, working in related areas.” — Ellen Moodie, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“This fine new book about the 1932 El Salvadoran massacre known as La Matanza. . .offers insights into a range of issues—agrarian history, ethnicity, the texture of historical discourse and memory, and the ways in which capitalist elites have acted to repress socialism. . . . Other works on the subject have barely tapped the available archival sources; Gould and Lauria-Santiago’s careful research allows them to challenge stereotypes and resolve many longstanding questions.” — Cindy Forster, American Historical Review

“This spectacularly detailed book will challenge important assumptions for scholars of Central America. It is also an excellent case study for students of mobilization and ethnicity. The authors explore questions that both of these literatures have been grappling with for some time. The authors weave together weighty ideas and rich data that succeeds in bringing insight to contentious politics.” — Louis Edgar Esparza, Mobilization

"Gould and Lauria-Santiago have, with To Rise in Darkness, written the definitive account of la matanza by detailing the agrarian mobilization that preceded it."  — Kirsten Weld, Latin American Research Review

To Rise in Darkness tells the story of the 1932 Communist-led uprising in El Salvador and the violent repression that followed, one of the most consequential events in Latin American history. As a prelude to the widespread terror that would sweep throughout Central America during the Cold War, this killing is beginning to receive scholarly attention, yet To Rise in Darkness will be the touchstone for future discussion of the 1932 revolt and massacre. Based on painstaking research and exhibiting a sharp conceptual focus, this book will influence scholarship on the relationship between political mobilization, ideology, and violence for years to come.” — Greg Grandin, author of The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation

To Rise in Darkness is a remarkable achievement. It completely transforms understanding of one of the most important political events in twentieth-century Central America.” — Lowell Gudmundson, Mount Holyoke College


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jeffrey L. Gould is James H. Rudy Professor of History and Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Indiana. His books include To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of Mestizaje, 1880–1965, also published by Duke University Press. He is a co-producer and co-director of the documentary film Scars of Memory: El Salvador, 1932.

Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of An Agrarian Republic: Commercial Agriculture and the Politics of Peasant Communities in El Salvador, 1823–1914 and a coeditor of Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

1. Garden of Despair: the Political Economy of Class, Land, and Labor, 1920-1929 1

2. A Bittersweet Transition: Politics and Labor in the 1920s 32

3. Fiestas of the Oppressed: The Social Geography and Culture of Mobilization 63

4. "Ese Trabajo Era Enteramente de los Naturales": Ethnic Conflict and Mestizaje in Western Salvador, 1914-1931 99

5. "To the Face of the Entire World": Repression and Radicalization, September 1931-January 1932 132

6. Red Ribbons and Machetes: The Insurrection of January 1932 170

7. "They Killed the Just for the Sinners": The Counterrevolutionary Massacres 209

8. Memories of La Matanza: The Political and Cultural Consequences of 1932 240

Epilogue 275

Afterword 281

Notes 291

Bibliography 343

Index 355
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4228-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4207-6
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